Hunting Dog Training: Gun Shy Dogs
Hunting in Georgia
Years ago, I was pretty involved with hunting dog training – especially bird dog training. Hunting in Georgia is a popular pastime, and my state has plenty of woods, fields, and lowlands that support a wide variety of wild game. Some of the more popular hunting in Georgia is for whitetail deer, wild boar, bear, raccoon, rabbit, and squirrel, but bird hunting is extremely popular, too. Geese, ducks, dove, woodcock, and marsh hens are all available, but quail hunting was always my favorite, although I also enjoyed dove hunting. We always kept several dogs on hand just for hunting, which is how I got into bird dog training. Unfortunately, I ran across a couple of dogs that were gun shy. If you’ve had the same experience, you might consider the hunting dog training tips provided here.
Bird hunting can be very enjoyable, but it can also be extremely challenging. After all, birds have the gift of flight, and some employ erratic flying patterns that make them difficult to hit. No matter how good your gun dogs are, they can’t help you improve your aim. They can, however, help you locate live quail and retrieve downed quail and doves for you. They can do the same with ducks and geese, too, but I never really enjoyed those types of bird hunting. I’ve also never hunted pheasant. My bird hunting consisted mostly of quail hunting and dove hunting, with a sprinkling of duck hunting.
In my opinion, quail hunting is the best of the best. I always loved trekking through the autumn woods and watching the dogs work. We used English pointers, English setters, and Brittany spaniels for quail hunting. And take it from me – seeing a well trained dog doing its job is a wonderful sight to behold! And, of course, there’s also the taste of fried Bobwhite involved, which is delicious.
If you’re not familiar with quail hunting, allow me to explain the role of the hunting dogs. Quail are capable of flight, but it’s usually in short bursts. The birds spend much of their time on the ground, often in groups called “coveys.” The dog’s job is to track and locate the birds. When the dog finds a bird or covey, it “points,” alerting the hunter. The hunter waits for the birds to “flush” – to fly. Sometimes the birds flush on their own, and sometimes the hunter stamps his foot near the location to make the birds take flight.
When a quail is downed, the hunter has to find it. This isn’t usually easy, as quail hunting might be done in some very thick brush. Most gun dogs will find the dead or wounded quail, but some pointing breeds aren’t natural retrievers. For example, English pointers aren’t usually natural retrievers. There are exceptions, however, and we owned one. Our liver pointer, Herman, was a great retriever, and we even used him on the dove field.
Quail Hunting Video:
Quail Hunting in Georgia:
Although I never enjoyed dove hunting as much as I did quail hunting, it’s still a great sport. In my neck of the woods, dove hunting is somewhat of a misnomer. We do more dove shooting than we do dove hunting. In other words, local farmers often host large dove shoots that include lots of shooters. On a good day, the birds come in by the droves, allowing hunters the opportunity to bring the birds down with shotguns.
With this type of hunting, the dogs don’t help hunters locate the birds that are targeted. Instead, the dog’s job is to retrieve dead and wounded doves and return them to their human master. A gun shy retriever does not a good hunting companion make. Numerous guns can be blazing away at the same time at a dove shoot, so you need a dog that’s totally immune to loud noises. In fact, our best retrievers actually liked to hear the guns roar. They’d get all excited because they knew it meant they’d get to do some retrieving.
Gun Dog Training
The key word in gun dog training is “gun.” Gun dogs have to be used to hearing a gun fire, or else, they’re pretty useless as hunting dogs. Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, gun shy dogs are afraid of loud noises – especially of hearing a gunshot. To better understand this fear, you need to understand a little about dog behavior. Most creatures, including canines, are born with a fear of loud noises. Even human infants come into the world with this inherent mechanism firmly in place. Of course, some dogs are more sensitive to loud noises than others are. I’ve worked with some puppies who didn’t seem bothered much when they heard their first gunshot, while others were terrified.
Gun Shy Dogs
There are plenty of gun shy dogs in the world, but the thing is that most people don’t know or care if their furkid is gun shy or not, unless the dog is a hunting dog. In fact, most non-hunter dog owners will never even know whether or not their dog is gun shy, unless the fear of loud noises includes a fear of thunder, fireworks, and/or other booming sounds. For example, I just discovered last 4th of July that one of my Great Danes is terrified of fireworks. Hamlet was five years old at the time, but it was the first time he’d been subjected to really loud noises. Since Hammie isn’t a hunting dog, I don’t care that he’s noise shy. It just doesn’t matter. With a hunting dog, however, it’s a different story.
You have to be able to depend on hunting dogs to be around after a firearm discharges. It doesn’t matter how great a quail-tracking nose it has, or if he’s the best retriever on the planet. If the dog heads for the hills, so to speak, after hearing a gunshot, it’s pretty useless as a gun dog. With patience, some dog training tips, and some common sense, you have a good chance of turning gun shy dogs into hunting dogs that don’t mind the sound of a gun blast at all.
Dog Training Tips
Dog training tips are often most effective with younger dogs and pups, and such is the case with gun shyness. An older dog that’s afraid of loud noises will be very difficult to train. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do so, but it’ll be tough. It’s much easier to start gun dogs out as pups, before they get “set in their ways.” It’s the “old dogs and new tricks” thing.
When my husband and I were training hunting dogs, we did a lot of work with the puppies before they ever set paw in a field or wooded area. Sound acclimation was an important part of our gun dog training. Since most puppies are naturally afraid of loud noises, we had to get the pups used to them gradually. We also had to give the dogs a reason to like loud noises by using typical dog behavior and association. In other words, the dogs needed to associate the loud noise with something good. Since dogs really like to eat, mealtime provides a great opportunity for desensitization to loud noises.
Begin once the puppy is used to you and its new home, and start with not-so-loud noises. Hand clapping works well. If the pup pays no attention to the clapping, gradually use louder noises. If you reach a decibel level that frightens the canine, go back to the loudest noise you used that didn’t bother the dog. Stick to that one for several days before moving on.
When the pup isn’t fazed by loud noises, begin firing a gun while the dog is eating. Don’t shoot right next to the dog. Instead, fire from a distance. Gradually shoot the firearm closer and closer to the dog, until you can fire right next to the dog without its even missing a mouthful of chow. With some dogs, you’ll be able to move pretty quickly through these steps, but with others, it might require a lot of patience on your part.
If you already have trained gun dogs, use them to help with your gun dog training. If the young dog has a bond with the older dog, the youngster will usually trust the mature dog and perhaps see it as a leader. When it notices that gunshots don’t bother its pal, the younger dog might figure gunshots are nothing to get frazzled about.
You can use this “team” approach with dog training in the field or woods, too. Use a tandem leash that connects the two dogs together – one with a center ring to which you can attach a long leash or cord. Take the dogs out for a stroll in the woods, and fire your gun. If you’ve gone through the noise-desensitization steps, the younger dog probably won’t be bothered. If it does try to shy away, don’t try to comfort it by petting it. The dog will think it’s being rewarded for such behavior. On the other hand, don't punish the dog for being alarmed when it hears a gunshot, as it might associate the punishment with the firing of the gun.
An important aspect of hunting dog training, or any dog training, for that matter, is trust. The dog should trust in you completely and see you as the pack leader. Once this trust is firmly established, gun dog training will be easier. Always reward good behavior, and don’t reward bad behavior. Be consistent in your methods, too, and be patient. Use a few “refresher courses” between hunting seasons to keep your hunting dogs “on their toes.” The time you put into hunting dog training will be rewarded in the long run.
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